Food, Fellowship, and Jesus: Bethel Community Beyond the Bubble

The Brubaker family hosts monthly dinners for Bethel graduates to eat, worship, and commune with each other and the Lord.

By Katie Johnson ’19

June 17, 2019 | 1:30 p.m.

Bethel alumni and students

Since 2016, the Brubaker family has been opening their home to Bethel graduates for times of fellowship.

“The Big Green Egg—after Jesus—is the best thing that ever happened to our family,” Nathan Brubaker ’15 jokes.

The Big Green Egg is a brand of ceramic kamado grills. It uses wood lump coal and fire to cook everything from pizzas to barbeques to smoked meats, and the Brubaker family uses it to feed 20 to 30 young adults that come to their monthly Saturday Suppers. 

These suppers give those connected to the Brubaker children—Nathan, Lydia ’16, and Becca ’19—an opportunity to eat their fill of good food, worship together, and ultimately experience an evening of intentional fellowship. During the week leading up to a dinner, their mother, Teresa, prepares the meal and also, after spending time in prayer, reaches out to one of the members of the group and asks them to share some sort of message. Their father, Brad, cleans the house, prepares the setting, and at times shares the message as well. Those that share usually talk about what they’re learning from the Lord, or even perhaps what they’re struggling with, so the group can pray for them. Drawing from their Vespers experience at Bethel, Nathan and Lydia lead worship.

The dinners started in winter 2016, almost a year after Nathan graduated, when the Brubakers realized that his Bethel friends were always around. “Sometimes people would just come over and have a nap on our couch even if he wasn’t there,” Teresa says. “They just felt really at home.” They usually stuck around for dinner, so Teresa just set extra places at their table. Nathan’s friends kept showing up, and after a while, they even asked Teresa if she could teach them how to cook. She slowly realized that the Lord was placing the idea on her family’s heart to create something intentional that could facilitate fellowship and community in the Lord.

“We were noticing that some of the ones that were coming over hadn’t connected to a church yet or were kind of in limbo land because they had all this community in Bethel,” Teresa says. “They were literally hungry for food and hungry for a community, though they did not really know how to find that or hadn’t found it yet in post-graduation life.”

“That’s its purpose—to create that safe space. Not safe in the sense of ‘You’re not going to be challenged.’ But safe in the sense of, ‘You’re welcome. You’re loved. Here’s the God of all creation that loves you. Come eat.’”

— Teresa Brubaker

Initially, they decided to invite Nathan’s friends and anyone they wanted to bring as well, and within a blink, they had created a Facebook group called “Saturday Suppers” with over 80 members. One time, the Brubakers had even received a letter from a woman who had been invited by one of the Bethel regulars; they were attending physical therapy school together at the time. The woman did attend the dinner, and in her note, she said: “I’ve never really experienced true faith before, and I grew up in the Catholic church, but I had never experienced Jesus as someone real and you can live your life for.” She thanked the Brubakers for opening their home and inviting her into it, just as she was.

For Teresa, that’s the whole point of these dinners. “That’s just what it’s for,” she says. “That’s its purpose—to create that safe space. Not safe in the sense of ‘You’re not going to be challenged.’ But safe in the sense of, ‘You’re welcome. You’re loved. Here’s the God of all creation that loves you. Come eat.’” 

One of the most precious parts of their evenings together is the time of sharing. Sometimes guests reveal part of their stories that they’ve never told anyone before, not even close friends. The group hopes visitors see this time and place as a space they’re welcome, no matter their pasts or struggles. “Sometimes, you think, ‘If I let people see this side of me, they won’t love me anymore, or they’ll think that’s weird.’ No, it’s not. It’s what God has brought you through,” Teresa says. “It’s part of your history, and that’s what makes you who you are, and once you start to articulate it in the light of ‘This is how God’s working in my life,’ you can see ‘Oh, He was faithful here and He showed me this and now I can see how it’s been and how it will be.’”

Once Becca brought her friends, who were currently attending Bethel, to the supper, and after the message, these seniors split off into small groups defined by their different disciplines so the adults already established in their fields could network with the upcoming graduates. As they paired up, Teresa headed downstairs to prepare dessert, thinking that the groups would talk for maybe ten minutes and come down. Instead, they spent over 45 minutes together, sharing advice and praying for one another. She recalls being blessed to see the established alumni who had previously been in the exact same place as the current Bethel students reassuring them that they would be okay, that they would find their way in the world.

Amidst the sharing, these groups always eat good food—everything from fish tacos with homemade sauces to adult grilled cheese sandwiches and applesauce with apples, plums, a pinch of sugar, and some cinnamon. Teresa is always eager to try something new and teach any of the kids’ friends her magical ways in the kitchen. With the addition of the Big Green Egg, the Brubakers experiment with recipes they wouldn’t have thought to try if it weren’t for the dinners.

Ultimately, these dinners replicate the church in action as the group lives in missional community. They also want to echo the community students have found at Bethel, especially as they graduate and have to be more intentional about staying in touch. 

Teresa has been extremely encouraged by how the Bethel community has taken care of her children. “For me as a mother to know that my kids are at a place that they’re going to be taught that Scripture is true, that Jesus has a plan for them in their lives and in their careers, and that Bethel is going to encourage them…It’s invaluable.”